The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

Secretariat of the UN

Responsibilities and Powers of the Secretariat and the SecretaryGeneral

Established under Chapter XV of the UN Charter, the Secretariat of the UN is at the service of all the other organs of the UN to implement their programs (Art. 98 of the Charter). The Secretary-General represents the organization as its highest officer (Art. 97). He (so far only men have held this office) oversees all of the employees of the UN. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, he may be entrusted with any other function, including political duties, by the organs of the UN (Art. 98). He can also recommend actions to States, an important responsibility.

All actions undertaken by the Secretary-General must be guided by the highest concern for impartiality, and he must act in the broadest international interest. As the chief administrative officer of the UN, he reflects the independence enjoyed by international civil servants as opposed to representatives of governments who are appointed to different UN organs to represent their country. “In the performance of their duties, the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.” Furthermore, each Member State undertakes to respect the exclusively international character of the Secretary-General and the staff and “not to seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities” (Art. 100). As of April 2013, the Secretariat had some 43,000 staff members around the world.

The Secretary-General is appointed by the General Assembly of the UN, on recommendation of the Security Council, for a renewable period of five years (Art. 97). On 1 January 2007, Ban Ki-moon of the Republic of Korea became the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, thus replacing Kofi Annan, who undertook two mandates (1997–2001 and 2002–2006). He is assisted by a Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, who was appointed on 2 March 2012 as the fourth Deputy Secretary-General since the post was established in 1997.

Structure of the Secretariat

The Secretariat is divided into nineteen departments or offices, headed by Assistant Secretary-Generals and by Under-Secretary-Generals:

  • Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG)
  • Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS)
  • Office of Legal Affairs (OLA)
  • Department of Political Affairs (DPA)
  • Department for Disarmament Affairs (DSA)
  • Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO)
  • Department of Field Support (DFS)
  • Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
  • Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)
  • Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA)
  • Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management (DGACM)
  • Department of Public Information (DPI)
  • Department of Safety and Security (DSS)
  • Office of the High Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG-CAC)
  • Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS)
  • Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA)
  • Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide
  • Office on Sport for Development and Peace
  • Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys of the Secretary-General (see complete list below)

When the Security Council is examining a crisis situation in a given country, the Secretary-General is in charge of implementing the measures adopted by the Council. He must also report regularly on the evolution of the situation. The Secretary-General may appoint Personal Representatives, Envoys, and Advisors of the Secretary-General, who are entrusted with monitoring specific country or thematic situations. These positions must not be confused with UN Special Rapporteurs, who are independent experts responsible for monitoring specific human rights and who are appointed by the Human Rights Council. ▸ Special Rapporteurs

As of April 2013, there were twenty-eight Personal Representatives and Envoys of the Secretary-General who are undertaking country mandates: in Burundi, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur for Africa; Guyana/Venezuela and Haiti for the Americas; Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, and East Timor for Asia and the Pacific; Cyprus, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia-Greece, Georgia, and Kosovo for Europe; and Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen for the Middle East.

In addition, there are twenty-two Special and Personal Representatives, Envoys, and Advisors with thematic mandates on various issues: Alliance of Civilizations, Avian and Human Influenza, Children and Armed Conflict, Disaster Reduction, Financing for Development, Food Security and Nutrition, Global Education, HIV/AIDS in Africa, HIV/AIDS in Asia and in the Pacific, HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean Region, HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Malaria and Financing of Health-Related Millennium Development Goals, Migration, Millennium Development Goals, Prevention of Genocide, Post-2015 Development Planning, Sexual Violence in Conflict, Sport for Development and Peace, United Nations International School (UNIS), Violence Against Children, World Summit on Information Society, and Youth.

Economic and Social Council of the UNGeneral Assembly of the UNInternational Court of JusticeSecurity Council of the UNSpecial RapporteursUnited NationsUnited Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/Human Rights Council

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